The Bridgeport Sound Tigers and their fans had little to celebrate on New Years Eve, other than “Thank God that month is over”. Having gone one win in twelve December games, the only bright spot was that the win came against our in-state rival, the Hartford ‘Whale Pack’. 2012 had to be better, and it has been.
Invited by Rob McGowan, I was given the opportunity to join The Checking Line – Isles Edition as a writer covering The Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Bridgeport has not lost a game since.
Bridgeport, like too many cities in the northeast, is struggling through bad economic times. Closed businesses and empty buildings dot the landscape. Well-intentioned projects are started and then abandoned due to a lack of funding, often leaving acres of property empty and unused.
The Webster Bank Arena is an oasis in the downtown Bridgeport area. Hosting a wide variety of events, it has thrived for ten years now. The arena is the home of The Bridgeport Sound Tigers and it is a Sound Tiger who is responsible for a number of recent thefts at the arena.
There are many differences between National League (NHL) and American League (AHL) players. Talent and dedication do not make that list. Perhaps that is why Islanders coach Jack Capuano refers to ‘call-ups’ as American League players and not minor leaguers. It may be because he coached the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, it could be that he himself was successful at the NCAA, ECHL, AHL, and NHL levels. No distinction. When Cappy makes the call to Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson to fill a need, the Isles will get a talented, dedicated player who fits in seamlessly into the system.
The biggest difference (my opinion) is the fan experience. Parking? Not a problem and free to season ticket holders. Tickets available? Most likely and you can more often than not move to another seat as you wish. Drunken Flyer’s fans in the building? Not in Howard Saffan’s house! Player accessibility? Let’s talk.
Detroit Red Wings Goaltender Jimmy Howard has 99 career wins in his young National Hockey League career.
He will look for number 100 against the New York Islanders.
Easier said than done.
The New York Islanders have won three consecutive games against Howard and the Red Wings. In their last meeting on December 31, 2010, a 4-3 overtime win for the Isles, P.A Parenteau scored the game-winning power-play goal in the extra session.
Even with the recent success against the Wings, the 2011-12 Islanders are fading quickly in a tightly contested Eastern Conference. Their most recent road trip started out with a dramatic shoot-out victory in Carolina, followed up by a listless third period in a 4-2 loss at Anaheim and a 5-1 drubbing by the Phoenix Coyotes that saw Shane Doan collect his first hat trick in 1160 career games. Evgeni Nabokov started his 9th straight game for the Isles and took the loss. He allowed five goals, including the 3rd goal by Doan with 0.1 left on the clock.
Nino Niederreiter has been playing with the New York Islanders all season long, but the amount of time he has spent on the ice has become somewhat of a concern amongst Isles fans. The 19-year old winger had a very impressive season last year with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. His skill, size and vision on the ice allowed the Islanders to feel that he was ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL with the organization envisioning his development to result along the lines of a top-six scoring winger.
So far this year, Niederreiter has become the exact opposite. His season was plagued by injuries from the get-go, forcing him to miss the start of the year with a groin injury he sustained in the pre-season. He came back gradually, but eventually started to show that he was getting his game back by using his size in the corners and scoring his first goal of the season. But another injury, the infamous concussion that was given to him in a game against the Dallas Stars, became another hurdle for the young forward to leap over in his development. As a result, the Islanders have played a total of 39 games on the year; Nino has only appeared in 16 of them.
The New York Islanders sent out an official press-release today stating that Russian defensive prospect Anton Klementyev has been suspended by the club for a failure to report to his ECHL assignment to the Idaho Steelheads.
Per the Islanders official press-release:
UNIONDALE, NY (January 7, 2012) – The New York Islanders announced today that defenseman Anton Klementyev has been suspended for failure to report for his ECHL assignment to the Idaho Steelheads. Klementyev began the 2011-12 season with the Islanders American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
It was reported yesterday that Rick DiPietro was being sent home for medical evaluations before the road trip even began as he had sustained yet another injury to add to the many setbacks of his career. Mike Mottau was also returned to Long Island with an upper-body injury. However, the story surrounding DiPietro is that this guy hadn't been playing; he was already on the Injured Reserve.
You have to wonder how a guy like Rick finds a way to injure himself while he is already...well...injured. He wasn't playing in games, although he had been skating on the ice. And according to Art Staple of Newsday, DiPietro wasn't even close to dressing as a back-up for any of the games on this road trip that saw them play Carolina last night, Anaheim on Friday and Phoenix on Saturday.
They come from towns like Blackie, Alberta, Carp and Porcupine, Ontario in Canada, from U.S. cities like Orange, California, Smithtown, New York and Pittsburgh,PA from Sweden, Finland, Russia and Slovakia. Most of them were drafted at the age of 18 at the annual June NHL draft. Many played their way up to the AHL in the junior leagues of Canada, the NCAA and minor leagues in the U.S.A. or the elite leagues of Europe. Now in their twenties (barely), they are members of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, and a phone call away from realizing their dream - playing in the NHL.
Long bus rides, small crowds and the dreaded three games in three nights are all part of the package for players in the AHL. Last night the Bridgeport Sound Tigers played against the Norfolk Admirals losing another tough game falling 3-2 in a hard fought comeback attempt from a 2-0 deficit.
So once again it's back on the bus for another long ride to Wilkes-Barre Scranton and a 5 o'clock game against another tough opponent. This time, however, there will be an empty seat on the bus.